Plus, what happens to campaign money after a candidate drops out?

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, nonpartisan, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

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Today's read: 11 minutes.

What should Biden do in response to the attacks on U.S. troops? Plus, a reader question about where campaign money goes when a politician drops out.

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My solutions to the border.

One of the things that frustrates me about critical journalism is that it often lacks any proposed solutions. So, in Tangle, I try to write solutions-oriented pieces on a regular basis. Tomorrow, I'm going to share my proposal for how to fix the U.S.-Mexico border. This is not a hypothetical, "what would you do if you could wave a magic wand” utopian fantasy. Instead, it is a proposal for this moment, with this Congress and White House, and a deal I think both sides could and should come to. The piece is going to go out to our 14,000+ Tangle members tomorrow at noon ET. 

Quick hits.

  1. Senators from both parties harshly criticized tech CEOs from Meta, TikTok, Snap, and Discord during a hearing about the threats the platforms pose to young people. (The hearings)
  2. Secretary of State Antony Blinken asked the State Department to present policy options for the recognition of a Palestinian state after the war in Gaza. (The talks)
  3. Longtime Democratic adviser John Podesta is going to take over as U.S. special climate envoy, replacing John Kerry. (The replacement)
  4. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is reportedly considering a push to dismiss his top general Valerii Zaluzhnyi. Polling in Ukraine shows Zaluzhnyi is one of the most popular public figures in the country. (The rumors)
  5. The House passed a $78 billion bipartisan tax package on a 357 to 70 vote that would restore a number of business tax benefits and temporarily expand the Child Tax Credit. (The deal)

A note.

Last week, we reported on the crash of a Russian military transport plane. According to Russia, the crash killed 74 people, including 65 Ukrainian prisoners of war who were en route to a prisoner exchange. Russia accused Ukraine of shooting the plane down, but Ukraine both disputed the claim and could not confirm the crash killed any Ukrainian prisoners of war. The deaths of 65 prisoners of war from the crash remains unconfirmed, and now Ukraine is calling it Russian propaganda. "We currently don’t have evidence that there could have been that many people onboard the aircraft. Russian propaganda’s claim that the IL-76 aircraft was transporting 65 Ukrainian POWs (heading) for a prisoner swap continues to raise a lot of questions,” Kyrylo Budanov, Ukraine’s military intelligence chief, said. NBC News has the story.

Today's topic.

The death of U.S. soldiers. On Sunday, U.S. Central Command confirmed that three U.S. Army soldiers were killed and more than 30 service members were injured in an overnight drone attack on a small outpost in Jordan. It was the first time U.S. troops have been killed by enemy fire in the Middle East since the beginning of the war in Gaza.

The attack happened at Tower 22, a secretive base in northeastern Jordan that sits near the borders with Syria and Iraq. Officials said the drone was able to enter the base without being shot down because it followed a U.S. drone that had been on a reconnaissance mission into the base, and it was unclear whether the drone was hostile.

On Wednesday, U.S. officials attributed the attack to the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, the umbrella group of Iran-backed militias that function in the region. After the U.S. said it viewed Tehran as responsible, Iran promised to "decisively respond" to any attack on the Islamic Resistance. Biden has been signaling that retaliatory strikes were coming since Sunday, but no such strikes have yet been carried out.

Meanwhile, Kataib Hezbollah, an Iraqi militia group, said it is suspending operations against the American "occupation forces" to prevent embarrassment to the Iraqi government. John Kirby, the National Security Council spokesman, dismissed that promise, saying the group can't be taken at face value and that they were not the only group attacking U.S. forces. He also promised that when the U.S. response comes, "the first thing you see won’t be the last thing,” adding it “won’t be a one-off.”

The United States has already struck back at militias in Syria and Iraq several times in the last few months, and has been striking military outposts and infrastructure belonging to the Houthis in Yemen.

Today, we're going to explore some arguments from the left and right about what the U.S. should do. Then my take.

What the left is saying.

  • The left is conflicted on the best response to the attack, with many concerned about the prospect of starting a regional war in the Middle East.
  • Some say Biden should send a forceful message directly to Iran that attacks on U.S. troops won’t be tolerated. 
  • Others advocate for a more restrained response and suggest a better solution would be to pull U.S. troops out of Iraq and Syria.

In The Washington Post, David Ignatius said “a slow-motion crisis” has arrived.

"For months, this crisis has been coming toward Biden in slow motion. Iranian-linked groups declared open season on U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria (and, now, Jordan) after the start of the Israel-Gaza war," Ignatius wrote. "Job No. 1 for the Biden team is ‘attribution.’ It must identify precisely which Iranian proxy launched the deadly drone and determine whether it did so on orders from Tehran."

"Striking Iran directly would risk a much wider war. Going to war also requires solid evidence, especially after the Iraq fiasco. Iran’s foreign ministry says that claims of Iranian direction are ‘baseless accusations’... But let’s be honest: Whether or not Iran is ordering the strikes, it is supplying the weapons, training and political support for these groups," Ignatius said. "Iran’s ‘death to America’ obsession has been steaming since the 1979 revolution, so it won’t end overnight. But Biden can take steps to deter the current, indirect warfare."

In his Special Intelligence newsletter, Malcolm Nance argued it’s “time to punish Iran.”

“The time for caution and tiptoeing around Iran, and its proxies in the region should be over. It was a solid move by Biden to carry out airstrikes in Yemen to open the shipping channels by eliminating drone and ballistic missile storage and launch sites. But carrying out these strikes in such a way that you prioritize killing no one is worthless as a message in the Shia Muslim world. Additionally, striking back at the individuals who fired the drones, but not the state sponsor that supplies them by the hundreds is equally useless,” Nance wrote. 

“Iran cares deeply about US politics. They support anything or anyone that damages the concept of democracy in America as a whole or in part. As an Islamic dictatorship with its several proxy groups, they can exercise power politics day in and day out without fear of significant action from the White House. Now that US soldiers have died and blood is drawn, a dramatic message should be sent to Iran.”

In Responsible Statecraft, Paul R. Pillar wrote “bring US troops home from Iraq and Syria now.”

“The attacks underscore how much these residual U.S. deployments have entailed costs and risks far out of proportion to any positive gains they can achieve. They have been sitting-duck targets within easy reach of militias and other elements wishing to make a violent anti-U.S. statement. Even without deaths, U.S. service members have paid a price, such as in the form of traumatic brain injuries from missile attacks,” Pillar said.

“The now-familiar tit-for-tat sequence in which American airstrikes against militias in Iraq or Syria alternate with more militia attacks on the U.S. installations illustrates a perverse form of mission creep… This weekend’s attack just across the border in Jordan is likely to become part of the same risk-laden sequence,” Pillar wrote. “The better course would be to interpret the attack as one more demonstration of how the troop presence in Syria and Iraq represents a needless vulnerability that ought to be ended sooner rather than later.”

What the right is saying.

  • The right is also divided on the best course of action, but many say Biden must give a show of strength. 
  • Some suggest that strikes inside Iran would reassert U.S. control in the region.
  • Others warn a direct attack could result in unforeseen consequences. 

In The New York Post, Mark Montgomery discussed “how to hold Iran accountable for killing US troops.”

“The campaign we will see later this week should, at a minimum, include sustained strikes on every Iranian proxy target we can locate in Syria, Iraq and Yemen to include missile and drone launch equipment, ammunition dumps, logistics sites and radars,” Montgomery said. “It must also include sustained strikes on hundreds of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps forces in Iraq, Syria and Yemen. Finally, Washington should sink any IRGC warship supplying targeting information to the Houthis in Yemen.

“Then comes the hard decision. Will the Biden administration attack Iran itself, hitting IRGC command-and-control facilities, logistics sites and missile and drone factories… I suspect this will be a bridge too far for an administration that has long harbored a desire for rapprochement with Tehran,” Montgomery wrote. “This crisis was completely predictable. The administration let Tehran make the rules. To get back in control, the next US steps need to be persistent and painful for Iran, the IRGC and its proxies.”

In The Daily Signal, Ben Shapiro wrote “weakness breeds aggression.” 

After the attack, “the Biden administration immediately leapt into action by issuing a strongly worded statement, while simultaneously proclaiming that it wanted to avoid escalation. Which, of course, is precisely the wrong thing to do when faced with aggression from a smaller, hostile adversary,” Shapiro said. “The right thing to do? Punch it in the mouth hard enough to deter further aggression.”

“Iran acted knowing that the Biden administration is cowardly in its approach to foreign affairs—that it’s willing to slow-walk aid to American allies under pressure but unwilling to countenance the credible threats of military force by which deterrence is established. And now the Biden administration continues to vacillate,” Shapiro wrote. “In an election year in which the president deeply fears a further conflict with Iran, Iran isn’t the party being deterred. America is, at the cost of American lives.”

In MSNBC, Daniel R. DePetris argued the U.S. “shouldn’t attack Iran.”

“Underlying all of this chest-thumping is the assumption that U.S. military action would be so painful that Iranian leaders would respond the way we would like them to: by standing down and ordering their proxies in the Middle East to cease further attacks against U.S. troops and installations in the region. Unfortunately, this is a low-probability scenario. Iran’s reaction might confound our expectations. Embarrassed and angered after being struck by American bombs, Iran could up the ante and attack U.S. troops and bases,” DePetris said.

“The U.S. doesn’t have a monopoly on choosing when and where to attack. If Iran were attacked, then it, too, would most likely take time to explore its options before responding, and that response might not be immediate. It also might not be what American leaders anticipate,” DePetris added. Biden can’t “avoid a response to the killing of three American soldiers. But those advising him to go after Iran directly shouldn’t assume they know how Iran will react. Nor should they assume that the consequences of an Iranian response can be predicted or managed.”

My take.

Reminder: "My take" is a section where I give myself space to share my own personal opinion. If you have feedback, criticism, or compliments, don't unsubscribe. Write in by replying to this email, or leave a comment.

  • It is hard to believe people are now seriously discussing open war with Iran.
  • Destabilization in Iraq would be very dangerous, as would removing our troops.
  • Whatever Biden does next needs to be done with the explicit cooperation and approval of our friends in the region.

I really can't believe this is where we are.

A few months ago there were questions about how Israel would respond to Hamas's attack. Would there be a ground invasion? How long would the air bombardment last? What would be considered proportional? Roughly four months later, and we are talking about whether the United States is going to bomb Iran. Already, our forces are striking groups in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, and now U.S. troops are dead after an attack in Jordan.

The thing that seems obvious to me is that the larger, regional war is already here. If U.S. senators calling for bombing Iran isn't proof enough, just look at what has already happened:  Strikes against U.S. forces have now occurred in Syria, Iraq and Jordan. U.S. forces have now struck militia groups in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. The Red Sea shipping channel remains unsecure. Israel is still waging its war in Gaza, and Hamas is still firing on Israel from Gaza. Hezbollah is still firing on Israel from Lebanon, and Israel is striking back in Lebanon.

It is worth clarifying that even though this latest attack was on a base in Jordan, the group responsible appears to be the Islamic Resistance in Iraq. I know a lot of people won’t differentiate between a country like Iraq and every other place in the Middle East, but the situation there is — or was — actually pretty stable. Iraq is not Syria or Afghanistan. The contours of all these nations, and our relationships with them, are different. 

A small contingent of U.S. forces in Iraq is helping provide a great deal of stability, and the Iraqi government and U.S. forces are capable of playing nice. In fact, some Iraqi officials want U.S. forces to stay, in part because they can help prevent an ISIS resurgence (though the United States is also there to help limit Iran's political and military strength in the region). And we saw what can happen after a troop withdrawal: In Afghanistan in 2021, the country immediately fell to the Taliban when U.S. forces left.

But everything that has happened in Gaza, and that continues to happen across the region, is now threatening that stability. Iran-backed militia groups in Iraq and Syria have now launched drones and rockets at U.S. troops more than 120 times since October 7. The U.S. has already responded with a drone strike in Baghdad earlier this month that killed an Iran-backed Iraqi militia member. That strike was itself a response to one of those attacks on U.S. forces, but — predictably — it did not go over very well among Iraqis, many of whom are now calling on the Iraqi government to push U.S. forces out. People don't typically like it when foreign countries fire bombs into their cities and towns.

Again: All of this is destabilizing. Any promise from Biden to retaliate raises the question of where and on whom that retaliation is going to come. U.S. doves might prefer it to happen in Iraq instead of Iran, on some of these Iran-backed militia forces, but that would still have major consequences. A serious retaliation in Iraq would be another major destabilizing event — one that could end with U.S. forces being asked to leave. And of course, any attack on Iranian soil would be a major escalation that is almost certain to prompt a much larger, much more destabilizing, and much deadlier war. That U.S. senators like Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and John Cornyn (R-TX) are openly calling for strikes on Tehran is lunacy.

I don't know what Biden should do in response. My primary concern is avoiding an all-out war with Iran, and my secondary concern is avoiding a situation where U.S. forces are quickly pushed out of Iraq (which, again, would be destructive for the region and a huge boon to the Islamic State). All the options on the table from the people who write and talk about this stuff seem to start from the presumption that we must respond in some particular way, but those are the same people who got us to exactly where we sit now. It’s hard to believe following their advice is going to help turn the temperature down.

Of course, the reality is this attack caused American deaths and happened in Jordan — a key U.S. ally. It’s very hard to imagine us doing nothing, and it's easy to see how sitting on our hands would only embolden the militias in the region. 

Whatever Biden does next, he needs to do it with the full support of his counterparts in Iraq and Jordan. Plenty of people are rightly worried about a wider war with Iran or the regional situation continuing to deteriorate. But there is danger, too, in any U.S. response that sets back our relationships with friends in the region — those we desperately need on our side if there’s any hope of keeping the peace. 

Disagree? That's okay. My opinion is just one of many. Write in and let us know why, and we'll consider publishing your feedback.

Your questions, answered.

Q: When a candidate drops out, where does the money that was donated to their campaign go?

— Susan from Bethesda, Maryland

Tangle: This is a very good question, and unlike a lot of the questions I get it actually has a (mostly) straightforward answer: The candidate gets to keep it.

Of course there’s a bit more to it than that, but that’s honestly 90% of the answer. The other 10% are the strings that you’d probably expect to be attached: First and foremost, any money donated to a candidate’s campaign has to be used for campaigning. So when Ron DeSantis dropped out of the race recently, he couldn’t legally take the money people donated to him and use it to buy a mega-yacht. His campaign, or Political Action Committee (PAC), has to first pay off all the debts and bills it accrued for things like office space and staff salaries. Then, whatever it has left over, DeSantis can use for his next campaign. That could either be another gubernatorial run in Florida, a presidential run in 2028, or support for a completely different person’s campaign. 

It’s pretty common for a politician who raises more than their race demands to take what they have left and fold it into a “leadership PAC” — essentially a piggy bank for future campaigns, and not necessarily their own. That’s exactly what Pete Buttigieg did after his 2020 run, and what Jeb Bush did before his run in 2016. Accumulating the kind of capital that comes from a deep presidential run gives a politician a lot of options for their personal future, as well as major influence in deciding who benefits from their favor. 

This was a topic of conversation for me recently, actually, when Bill O’Reilly invited me back onto his show to discuss whether or not Nikki Haley would be staying in the race until Super Tuesday. When I gave my pitch for why I think she’ll probably stick around, at least until South Carolina, the big money donations and corporate backers only comprised part of the answer. The other part was what O’Reilly offered up himself — book deals, speaking gigs, and a heightened public profile, all things a candidate gets to profit from directly. In some cases, a decent campaign can raise the clout of businesses associated with that candidate, and thus raise their value, and therefore the candidate’s net worth. Just ask Vivek Ramaswamy, who is now $100 million richer than when he started his campaign.

Now, there are also costs to staying with doomed campaigns too long, even if the money keeps rolling in. To O’Reilly’s point, if you end up getting demolished by your opponent at the ballot box, all that money you raised only buys you a big “loser” tag, souring your donors on investing in you in the future. Not to mention the stress, personal turmoil, and massive costs you have to cover before you ever turn a buck. 

But at the end of the day, if a politician does gain money from a campaign, they get to keep it for future political use. And that incentive is a major factor in how politicians choose the races they enter.

Want to have a question answered in the newsletter? You can reply to this email (it goes straight to my inbox) or fill out this form.

Under the radar.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis quietly won two major legal victories just weeks after announcing the end to his presidential campaign. First, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit that was brought by Disney in which DeSantis was accused of a targeted campaign against the company after revoking its special tax status in Florida. Then, just hours later, a judge dismissed two lawsuits brought by pro-Palestinian student groups attempting to stop DeSantis from kicking them off campus in the wake of their pro-Palestinian activism. The judge threw the lawsuits out mostly because university officials had not yet enforced DeSantis's efforts. The New York Times has the Disney lawsuit story; The Hill has the students' lawsuit story.


  • 166. The number of attacks on American military installations in the Middle East since October 18, including 67 in Iraq, 98 in Syria, and one in Jordan.
  • 50,000-80,000. The estimated number of Iranian-backed militia fighters currently operating in Iraq. 
  • 2,500. The approximate number of U.S. troops in Iraq. 
  • 900. The approximate number of U.S. troops in Syria. 
  • 84%. The percentage of Americans who say they are “very” or “somewhat” concerned that the United States will be drawn into a military conflict in the Middle East, according to a November 2023 poll from Quinnipiac University.
  • 71%. The percentage of Americans who said they supported President Trump’s decision not to pursue military action against Iran after Tehran launched a missile strike targeting two air bases in Iraq housing U.S. troops in 2020. 
  • 53%. The percentage of Americans who approved of President Trump’s decision to kill Iranian General Qasem Soleimani in 2020.

The extras.

  • One year ago today we wrote about Biden planning to end the Covid emergency.
  • The most clicked link in yesterday’s newsletter was the advertisement in the free version of our newsletter for Caddis eyewear.
  • Index of Tangle Sentiment: We did something a little different for our survey question yesterday. Repeating the University of Michigan’s methodology to the letter, we calculated our own Index of Consumer Sentiment with a very unscientific survey of our readership. 853 readers responded, and the consumer sentiment of that group clocked in at 90.2, which compares more optimistically to the official mark of 78.8.Our surveying method was implicitly biased, sampling only Tangle readers who opened our email, read to the bottom, and had the time and interest to take the poll. That our result is significantly higher than the University of Michigan’s tells us that a reader who answers our surveys is likely more economically optimistic than the average American, which is an interesting thing to consider!
  • Nothing to do with politics: A teenager in Utah may be the first person ever arrested for taping fish to ATMs.
  • Take the poll. What do you think is the right course of action for the United States in the Middle East? Let us know!

Have a nice day.

Two friends from high school are planning on taking a trip together over their first summer breaks from college, and in doing so trying to take a step towards bridging a national divide. Lucas Kult-Banout, 19, and Ezekiel Wells, 18, are starting a YouTube video series to document their journey as they travel across the country and speak with people of all backgrounds to find some sacred common ground. “With the conflicts going on in the world right now, we are both bringing up a lot of debate and events at our campuses,” Kult-Banout said. “It is really easy to talk at each other instead of to each other and try to understand the other side better.” The Wednesday Journal of Oak Park and River Forest has the story.

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Isaac Saul
I'm a politics reporter who grew up in Bucks County, PA — one of the most politically divided counties in America. I'm trying to fix the way we consume political news.